Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Personal Forest

I’m posting a ray of sunshine this morning: the sparkle in my boy's eyes, his hope for the Obamas and that all of us can move forward.

As I neared Truman's room early this morning, I heard faint piano sounds, and soon recognized Truman haltingly approximate a song on an iPad piano app. He was playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I stood outside his door not wanting to disturb him, and needing to hear his rendition, listening to him work out his grief alone in his room, reaching for comfort in our national anthem.

Like so many of us still reeling from the shock of this calamitous election, Truman is struggling to come to terms with the thought of the Obama family moving out of the White House to make room for its new occupant. President Obama is the only president our 11-year-old has ever known.

Along with the letter that Truman sent to our president this week, he attached this drawing of a home he imagined, with each room designed with the Obama family's interests or needs in mind. Knowing that Moby Dick is "one of President Obama's top four favorite books," Truman designated a Moby Dick room. In addition to a room devoted entirely to Star Wars, the family will have their own Hall of Fame. Each of the girls, and the dogs Sunny and Bo, all have rooms of their own, as well as a Soccer Field. Barack can play on the Basketball Court while Michelle tends the Balcony Garden. The family will enjoy a Theater and a Movie Theater, a Pie Room and an Ice Cream Room, a Library and a Book Storage Room, a Personal Museum and a Personal Art Museum. I'm envious of the Restaurant Serving Anything room, and of the Ballroom. My hands-down favorite room is the Personal Forest; what I wouldn't give to have my own forest at home (well, I guess I do, as his brother Jukie's middle name is Forest).

So many of these sweet and silly rooms speak to our need for security, peace, and reflection during this despairing time, and during the difficult transition that awaits all of us when the Obamas leave The White House. The Obamas will be downsizing to a smaller home, just as so many of us will feel tempted to downsize our dreams for the country. Truman joins me in hoping that each of you can spend some peaceful time in your personal forest.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dear President Obama

As the shock of yesterday's election results wears off, an intense sadness takes over. Walking the streets of my hometown, I sense melancholy permeating the air. Facial expressions range from flat to crestfallen. The people I see, like me, are fighting tears. When the like-it-was-any-other-day cheery Starbucks barista greeted me with, "how ARE ya?" I couldn't manage the usual, "great, you?" No sound came out with my response. Instead, tears came. The woman behind me offered a comforting arm rub. We didn't exchange words. We could hardly exchange eye contact. We shared only silence.

I can barely manage my own devastation during this uncertain time. Yet, like many parents across this country, I must also struggle to comfort my children, who are frightened by the prospect of a President Trump. As much as I tried to shield my kids from the hate-filled rhetoric of his campaign, they absorbed enough to be terrified. The first question my 11-year-old son Truman asked me this morning as he recalled the late night election returns was this: "are we still safe?" His dad and I have few words of reassurance to offer. "How did this happen?" the boy asks. "Will Trump lock up Hillary Clinton?" he worries. "Do you think we should cancel Christmas?" he wonders. "Are you SURE we will be safe?" And I know that he reads my face, which says I don't know. I do not know that we will be safe.

His brother Jukie was the lucky one last night. Blissfully unaware, he turned in early and slept like a baby. Truman cried himself to sleep. Big sister Geneva and I texted late into the middle of her Wisconsin night. Her college blue state turned red, and we shared our disbelief. "Everyone is freaking out here!" she said. "Here too," I told her. Andy and I finally fell asleep, entwined like pretzels with my arm contorting so that I could sleep with my hand on his heart. Its steady beat said: We are still here. We will go forward.

I had a hard time separating from my kids today. But I had to go to work, and they had to go to school. We needed to keep calm and carry on. School pick up couldn't come soon enough; I needed to see my boys. On the ride home from school, Truman described his day. His teacher addressed the election first thing, giving the children a chance to share their feelings and reactions. He said that he chose not to speak today. "I couldn't bring myself," he said. I told him that I knew the feeling. But he had an idea: he would write to President Obama. Even if the president were never to see the letter, Truman said that feeling as if he were to talk to the man he so admires might just make him feel a little bit better. Here is his letter:

Dear President Obama,

I know it is somewhat unlikely you will ever see this, but I have hope this will reach you. My name is Truman Banjo Jones Duren. I live in Davis, California (west of Sacramento), and I am a fifth grader at Patwin Elementary. I am not writing this to tell you about myself. I am writing to say that on the 8th of November, I got more upset than I have ever been in my life. I am still very sad, but it would help me so insanely much if you end up responding to this. I think it might make us both feel better about the aftermath of this election.

On an unrelated topic, I just want to say you are the best president since Franklin Roosevelt. Probably the best period. I wrote a report on you when I was in fourth grade, and my teacher said it was the best.


Truman J. Duren

P.S. If you can, please write back.

I'm grateful that Truman will have memories of a president that he could admire.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Love Liberates

Today my firstborn babe turns 19. Nine. Teen.

Even when thousands of miles separate us, our hearts are always together.

I remember reading research about the way in which fetal cells migrate into the mother during pregnancy. Some of the cells of our baby's DNA stay with us and become part of our body. It is no wonder that we moms struggle so mightily with separation; our children are literally part of us.

And yet, my task this year has been to let her go, and more than that, to encourage her to fly far away. Mission accomplished. She has launched with my full blessing and support. And while I have grieved the distance between us, this sadness is tempered by my thrill at seeing her settling into her new life of young adulthood, and doing so well. When I complimented her impressive "adulting" during my visit to Wisconsin last month, she smiled and said, "it's easier to be an adult without you and Daddy around." Wonderful. That's the idea.

Of course, we all want our children to grow strong and happy, to earn their independence. In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama said “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Even though the process may wound us, sometimes we show the greatest love and compassion by loosening the physical binds with the ones we cherish.

To me, Maya Angelou makes this point about unconditional love best: 

"You see, love liberates. It doesn't bind. Love says, 'I love you. I love you if you're in China. I love you if you're across town. I love you if you're in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I would like to have your arms around me. I would like to have your voice in my ear. But that's not possible now — I love you, so go.' Love liberates. It doesn't hold."

I wish I could be near my girl to help her celebrate her birthday today; I would love to wrap my arms around her. But I know that she's right where she should be, learning about compassion, discovery, and all the other adventures that await a 19-year-old woman.

Happy birthday, Boonie!